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What does it mean to be a follower of Jesus? What does one look like who does what Jesus did, living like him, loving abundantly and subversively as he loved? Does it look like Kim Davis?; Pope Francis?; Martin Luther King Jr.?; Dorothy Day?; Billy Graham?; Joyce Meyer?; or maybe someone you know personally? We often struggle today to name that identity. Is it someone who is Republican, Democrat? Capitalist, socialist?; Rich, poor?; Politically correct, or culturally resistant? One who pulls herself up by her bootstraps, or one who helps the poor? A legalist or a relativist? Today’s scripture moves deeper into the portrait of one who walks and lives the Way of Jesus.
Jesus has been talking with his disciples for the past two chapters of Mark in different contexts, situations and places. He’s explaining what a life of faith resembles and how it moves in the world. It prioritizes the last first; hospitality for all; invoking the authority of Jesus, not causing to stumble, and listening for and to the Word of Christ.
In our selection today we see two contrasting stories about this (there are three if you read the whole of chapter 10 – I’m leaving out verses 1-12: a rabbinical discucssion about divorce). The disciples don’t want Jesus to be bothered by the children, who interupt, maybe are dirty, unwanted, or not looked to as of primary importance (as was the ethic in the Roman Empire which considered children to be dispensable). But Jesus has a radically different vision which he not only speaks but enacts.
Later, a man earnestly runs up to Jesus looking for spiritual advice and religious affirmation. Yet he leaves despondent, bothered by the distracting words of Jesus which subvert his spirituality of strict legal adherence with a call to radically generous living and trust. Sandwiched in the middle of these two encounters, the disciples fear that they’ve made a mistake, or chosen an impossible way. They suddenly want to hedge their bets. Jesus not only reassures and comforts them, but call them again to a different way of being, living and seeing: “many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
The Way of Jesus is subversive and fundamentally different than our usual way of living. Those who get their first, are first. Those who do the right things are most often recognized. Those who push to the front are welcomed in. Jesus isn’t about passivity, or the destruction of self-confidence, but rather a radically wide hospitality, affirming that there is a place of everyone, more than enough to go around, that the God of the universe wants to turn our world upside down to free us – all things are possible for God. But before we become complacent and over-confident, remember that the only person in the gospel of Mark who Jesus is explicitly said to love (v 21) is the one who rejects his call. What does that mean? How do we live as one who belongs to the Reign of God, and welcomes others into it?
Questions for Going Deeper:
Two things strike me: the rich man’s quest for eternal life? What is eternal life, and why does he want it so much? The second is, that it is so hard for all of us to enter the kingdom of God, and yet is isn’t hard in the sense of many steps, but maybe just one: like a child…